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Panpa Bulletin : July 2010
WEEGEE, the famous tabloid news- paper photographer who stalked the streets of New York in the 1940s and 1950s, is often credited with helping create American tabloid journalism. His style emerged from listening to emergency service radios and then following their trail to document vio- lence and accidents across the city -- a trend which caught on worldwide. His realistic images brought murder scenes, celebrities and their gawking fans, urban crime and injury into the homes of newspaper readers, allow- ing them to join in on the spectacle. Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig) has also been tagged less flatteringly with turn- ing America into a nation of voyeurs, by using invasive imagery thought by some to be extreme violations of privacy. Whatever your opinion of tabloid photography, the documentation it provides of a city in a certain era is a priceless cultural and historical record. Not surprisingly, Weegee's photographs are now hung in exhibi- tion spaces across New York. John Grainger, a snapper for News Ltd's Sydney tabloid, the Daily Tel- egraph, follows the tradition laid down by Mr Fellig. Looking over John's vast image bank of car crashes, crime scenes, protests, arrests, looming catastrophic storms and raging fires offers an amazing perspective of Sydney over the past 20 years. It is a perspective gained not only through the documentation of major political events but also smaller cul- tural cues only available to residents of the city, such as the clothes of on- lookers, the surrounding architecture, car models and police uniforms. John's images also illustrate the danger press photographers face by being so close to the drama. In his time as a press photographer he has been strangled, abused, and al- most fainted from heat exhaustion as a bush fire ripped past him. He has even had a handbag thrown in his face. "I thought I was far enough away. Obviously not, because she threw her handbag at me and it felt like it had a brick in it," recalls John. Tough gig, the life of a tabloid snapper. Many newspaper photographers now also face the possibility of redun- dancy as the reliance on photographic wire services grows. Luckily for John, the Daily Telegraph has not followed suit and currently has a strong team of 21 photographers spread over sport, news and features photography. Steve Groves, photographic man- ager at Nationwide News which over- sees the Daily Telegraph, says: "The very visual content of all our products offers the public a strong point of dif- ference to that of our competitors." The Daily Telegraph is a paper highly driven by pictorial content, with many of the top stories told through photos, with text on the side. Everyday tragedy, death and crime features heavily in the paper's content and the life of a news photographer parallels that tragedy. "We never publish photos of dead bodies but they are always there," says John. "In the old days, I had instances where police would have me do the forensic photos because the tide was coming in. They couldn't get the fo- rensic people there in time, so I would have to do all the photography with the body where it had been found. "But that wouldn't happen now," John says. The relationship between the media and the police has tightened signifi- cantly in recent years where, as in most industries, public relations departments now buffer the media's access to areas that used to be easily accessible. Even the police radio system which has helped photographers onto the scene of catastrophe since Weegee's time was overhauled in Australia when the encryption of the police radio scanners was brought in. "Previously you knew everything that was going on in the city in re- gards to crime, you even knew when the police were going on a lunch break," says John. The new system, Police External Agencies Transfer System or PEATS, works by the police registering crimes on a database which media outlets ac- cess through a secured website. However, John says police often do not register certain incidences until well after the event. "You often find that a murder will be labelled a "concern for welfare" and you won't know it's a murder until hours later, they can hide things if they want to," he says. One Daily Telegraph opinion writer wrote when PEATS came in: "Ac- cording to PEATS we have the best behaved city in the world. In the past six months, there has not been one shooting, stabbing, brawl or armed hold up in Sydney." Although a lot has changed, one aspect of the snapper game which has remained the same is the stake-out. "It's everything you see in the movies, sitting in a car, drinking coffee," says John. "But it is boring, and it's very tiring. Sometimes you have to concen- trate on one door for six hours." Although it's a tough gig, John still prefers the dark and murk of the crim- inal underworld or the dodgy dealing of crocked businessman over the fluff of the celebrity chase. "I leave that for the paparazzi," John says. S lH PHOTOGRAPHER PROFILE See more photos and listen to the interview with John Grainger by scanning the code with your mobile. www.panpa.org.au John Grainger's stunning image of a dark world bearing down on a lonely yacht John uses a Canon EOS 1D Mark 4 and Mark 3. Lens range from 16mm to 500mm ebecca Leaver N PA Dark world lights up 4 Left: John attacked outside a courtroom by a mother whose son had committed a violent crime; Right: A woman leaves a courtroom, lashing out at a photographer from The Australian, "Outside courtrooms people often get violent," says John Grainger 16 | The PANPA Bulletin | JULY 2010 Photographer John Grainger throws a light on the truth of city life